Big magic elizabeth gilbert


People keep asking me about motivation which seems ironic: I’m the least motivated person I know.

How do you keep writing? Should you write every day, even when you don’t feel like it? Or wait for inspiration to strike?

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes ideas as if they are beings in their own right. She describes them as having consciousness as they seek human partners to engage with. This seems far-fetched, unbelievable, yet that’s exactly how it feels to me when inspiration strikes me. It seems to have arrived their of its own accord. When I was paid to think of new programmes for the BBC, I struggled. But when I’m out on a walk or baking a cake, thinking about nothing in particular, suddenly an idea pops into my head.

And that’s the time to act on it. If it’s a book idea, I need to get writing straightaway, to ride the crest of that initial wave of inspiration and enthusiasm, get as much down on paper as I possibly can, because that’s when the words flow most easily.

But inevitably that initial wave reaches the shore and ebbs away. I’m left feeling that writing is hard graft. It’s so tempting to abandon the book at that point. So how can I keep going?

The internet is full of tips for getting motivated: minimise distractions, don’t edit whilst you’re writing, dedicate a special place in your house to be your writing space, or even imagine yourself writing and enjoying it. Perhaps some of these might work for you. These are my top four tips:

1. I establish a routine: if I do something every day at the same time, I am much more likely to keep going.

2. I tell myself that I’ll just write for twenty minutes or set myself a very small target of say, 200 words. Once I’m started, I often find myself back in the zone and able to continue for longer.

3. I write anyway, even if what I’m writing isn’t great. I can go back later and improve it which is easier than starting with a blank sheet.

4. I trouble-shoot. Is there a problem with the plot of the book that is holding me back? A hole in the plot? A character whose motivation I haven’t fully figured out?

Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence that is holding me back. I think, “What’s the point? No-one’s going to read this!” If I may, I’ll quote Elizabeth Gilbert again here. “I wrote this book for my own pleasure,” she says in Big Magic. So write for you, because you enjoy it. Don’t write for anyone else.

My final tip is this. My favourite books give me a sense of being with friends when I read them. Louisa in Me Before You is a fictional character but if she were real, I’m sure we could be mates. I’d love to meet Elfrida from Rosamund Pilcher’s A Winter Solstice or have a gossip with Geraldine from Anne Fine’s Our Precious Lulu.

I’m starting to see the characters of the two novels I’m currently writing as my friends too. Ella is only 9 but I can really relate to her lack of confidence. Martha is single but so wishes she wasn’t, and that’s a feeling I remember so vividly from my late thirties too. Writing then becomes not so much about getting words onto pages but about spending time with these people in their worlds and that makes it a much more exciting prospect altogether.


  1. Love your approach here Jennifer. I think the troubleshooting point is incredibly relevant to a lot of people. When we come to a sticking point we fight hard to push through without actually dealing with the problem. Whether it’s confusion on the next step or things just don’t quite align with the plot anymore. It’s a stick in the road that we are shoveling around and can’t get passed which leads to frustration and in the end, a lack of motivation. Seeking out the problem and having a clear vision would certainly help with the enjoyment factor also.

    I would be interested to see the development side of your characters and where they root from. Whether it’s an experience of your past (like you said you can connect with elements of their feelings), or on topics you feel others have gone through that you are integrating into your character’s journey.

    Are you writing these novels for solely pleasure or are there other factors involved regarding the hopeful future of these novels?

    1. The characters inevitably have characteristics of me! I can’t help it. At the weekend, I realised that in the children’s book I’m writing, the main problem my 8 year old has is one of my problems too! I had never actually clocked that before – it had just naturally evolved as the book developed.
      Of course, I would love to get published but I’ve only ever had non-fiction published before and I think it’s much hard to get fiction published, so I’m being realistic. At the moment, I’m trying to enjoy writing for writing’s sake. I reckon creating anything for the simple joy of creating it always leads to the best work anyway! Might do a blog post about that soon as it’s reminded me of something I heard at the Open Studios in Hebden Bridge a few years ago!

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